Every minority group has at least one issue which divides them. For people of African descent, it is the word nigger. Some view that word as one so steeped in the sting of history’s pain, that the mere mention of the word causes them to wince and react viscerally. Still, there are those who use the word when speaking to or about each other as a sign of mutual identity; an affectionate word which is a sign of love and understanding.
For people with disabilities there are many such words.
The use of both gimp and crip are two bones of contention in my social circle. There are friends of mine who the mention of either one of these words, causes them to go ape. Often inciting anger and stinging words of retaliation to be spewed back at the party who dared to call someone a gimp or crip. Those who are offended by the use of the word would argue that they have struggled to be seen as more than just a person with a disability. In their view they have fought and overcome negative societal images of people with disabilities. Therefore, to refer to them as a gimp or a crip undermines what they have worked so hard to overcome.
Like African-Americans and the word nigger, there are those within the disability community who see gimp and crip as terms of endearment. To them, these are terms of mutual understanding, admiration and even a way or injecting some much needed self-deprecating humor into life, which is often too serious. Like the day when you’re transferring and slip while you’re hurrying to get ready for your paratransit ride, which of course picks you up late to take you to a therapy appointment that some secretary forgot to call and cancel. That is an example of what my friends call affectionately a gimp day. When at every turn you’re reminded you are a person with a disability at every step of the way.
Since part of the biggest battle for any minority group is how those outside the group perceives them. And since words and labels help us to categorize things and therefore how one is perceived, then those who are against the word do have a legitimate point.
On the other hand, words can also be used as a tool to not take each other, and by extension, life too seriously. It can be used to let others realize that people with disabilities do have the ability to laugh at ourselves. Lacking a sense of humor is not a part of our disability.
Words of caution, however, to the able-bodied people reading this who are thinking they will show their solidarity with their relative, friend, or lover with a disability and use the “g” or “c” word. DON’T GO THERE! Membership has its privileges.
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